Monday, February 02, 2009

The bourdalou

These charming articles, of compelling collectability, are something of which I have only recently become aware. However, I rather think that all my pictures are of examples which are in museums, so it would probably be a fruitless undertaking for me to start yet another collection. But they are so beautiful, and I covet them so much, that I cannot resist writing about them at least, and sharing the pictures with my readers.

According to, "the bourdalou is a small urinary receptacle for female use, of compressed eliptical shape and generally made of porcelain or earthenware, but also made occasionally of silver. It was used c. 1710-1850, and in England is known as a 'coach pot'. An apocryphal explanation of the origin of the name attributes it to Père Bourdaloue (1632-1704), a Jesuit preacher at the Court of Louis XIV, whose long discourses detained the ladies of the Court so as to necessitate this practical receptacle. "

The mind boggles. Not much modesty in the French Court, it seems. But the grand ladies must surely have had attendants to carry off the pots and dispose of the contents. And if they were used for long journeys by coach, were they just emptied out of the window en passant? I imagine so. Or perhaps they had to stop anyway to allow for the article to be used in the first place. I would dearly love to see a costume drama of the period which portrayed this small but vital aspect of a lady's life at the time. Is it too much to ask that reality TV should go that far?! And then of course there was a time when chamber pots were kept in a cupboard in the diningrooms. I'm not sure, but I think they were for the gentlemen lingering over their port and cigars, rather than for the ladies.

Such elegance of design and execution for the humble pot is not to be found in the retail catalogues of today, alas, but there is nevertheless a considerable choice of portable female urinals on the market, some of which can be seen here. My favourite so far, which I found in the Christmas Catalogues, is the Uriwell, and the children's version, the Happy-pee. It has a tight lid, and is about the size of a coke can (before being extended), and will fit neatly into your glove compartment in case of need. It was designed and made in Italy.


herhimnbryn said...

J, what a wonderful post. What a practical but beautiful Pot!

Like you I have never seen one 'used' in a film, but there is a scene in The Piano, where the sister in law( I think) is walking through a forest and gets her servants to hold a blanket around her while she lifts her long and muddy skirts!

Granny J said...

Absolutely fascinating slant on history. And beautiful pots, to boot. Thank you for opening another window on time for me.

Lee said...

I'm not sure if this is too much information or not!

Judith said...

I wasn't entirely sure either, Lee, but I believe in plain speaking, as you will have discovered if you linked from the title to an old post of mine. I wanted to share some information with those who might find it useful, and I found a way to sweeten the pill.

KeithD said...

Strange the French name sounds so similar to Portaloo!

The fact that these items are so well decorated attests to their acceptability - clearly they weren't unmentionables to be hidden away somewhere. When did we become so squeamish about our bodily functions? I suspect the Victorians are to blame.

Kate said...

Never fails! I always find amazing stuff when I stop by to visit. :-)

(M)ary said...

until i started reading your post, i thought they were gravy boats!

annie said...

Great fun to see, Judith, and so practical-- those bumpy coach roads must have threatened everyone on long trips. When I was little we had no indoor plumbing, but each bedroom had a dresser with washstand and pitcher, and underneath in a cupboard was the chamber pot. My set had roses on it.

David said...

Hi Judith,

Thanks very much for linking to our Gifts For The Girls website regarding the Uriwell.

You do have a very interesting blog.